Unless you have visited Israel, you may not be aware of the nation’s vastly diverse landscape. Israel is a land of beauty, full of mountains, hills, valleys, deserts, canyons, rocks, trees, plants, and foliage of all kinds. Many of the trees growing in the land today are the direct result of a holiday called Tu Bishvat. The earliest Zionist pioneers in the 1800’s participated in preparing Israel for her future children through planting and reforestation efforts, which continue to this day.
Based on the ancient day for offering field and fruit tithes in the Temple, Tu Bishvat (or the fifteenth day of the Hebrew month Shevat) has been reaffirmed in the modern State of Israel as a special “tree holiday.” Those who participate in planting greenery in the land on this day do so with patriotism but also with a hope for the continuance of Israel’s existence and provision for future generations. A popular Jewish folk tale tells the story of an old man planting a carob tree. A young man passed by and mocked his elder, taunting that the fruits of a carob tree take seventy years to come to fruition and that the old man would never partake of his tree’s fruit. The old man responded, “I do not plant for myself; I plant for future generations.”
The sentiments of the old man in the tale have been realized by the generations that have benefitted from others who have gone before them and have beautified the modern State of Israel. Israeli school children, in turn, continue to play a major part in this national holiday by taking field trips up the mountains of Israel to plant saplings on the hills. For years my own children (who have since grown and are now serving Israel as soldiers in the IDF) were among those little school children.
There was one year, however, that my children did not plant trees on Tu Bishvat. What happened that year is actually the reason behind my love and deep connection to the Tu Bishvat holiday. In 1996, while our children’s friends and classmates were planting new life on the mountains of Israel in the form of baby trees, my kids stayed home to help “plant” their new baby brother in the community of Israel. That year our family planted something far more significant than a tree—we planted human life on the hills of Israel.
I can remember the fifteenth of Shevat 5756 as if it were yesterday. My mind still provides vivid memories of our son’s circumcision ceremony. Our small white marble-floored apartment was packed to the brim with family, friends, and neighbors. The nature of the ceremony and prayers yielded silence, but anticipation and excitement saturated the crowded room.
The jovial words of the Israeli mohel rolled from his mouth in distinct but broken English: “Okay, now is the time for the ima (mother) to leave the room. What we do next is not so nice for the mothers to see!” He grinned as I passed by, proud that my husband and I had chosen to observe the commandment of circumcision.
After a few short moments, I returned to the room. I could hear our newborn’s brief and intermittent cries underneath the explosive celebration of chanted blessings and song. I watched as the mohel administered our son’s first kiddush (the blessing of the LORD over wine and its subsequent consumption, usually during times of joy) to him through a wine-soaked piece of cotton. Then with a thunderous “Mazel Tov!” my infant was returned to my arms—now bearing the mark of the covenant in his flesh.
The mohel turned his attention to my husband and me as he closed the service, reminding us of our great duty to raise this son in the ways of our people and according to the Law of Moses. Since this was our fourth child, we clearly understood the seriousness of the moment and the task at hand. We knew that parenthood was a challenge—a moment-by-moment occupation requiring patience, understanding, wisdom, and irrevocable love. We felt blessed and honored that the Lord had seen fit to enlarge our young family.
One of our friends gave a blessing based on the text of Leviticus 19:23, which speaks of the command to plant trees when coming into the land of Israel to live. “We thank you, LORD, that you have seen fit to bless this family with a new ‘planting’ in the land of their forefathers on the hills of Jerusalem.”
Although we had immigrated to Israel only two years prior, this baby was already our second baby to be born in the land. Our friend’s words and the magnitude of our fruitfulness in such a short period of time slowed my racing thoughts, and in an instant the correlation between the Israeli holiday of planting in the land and this “human planting” of my son impacted me greatly. What an incredible opportunity for our family to plant new human life here in Israel once again—and on the very day that residents of our entire country were planting new life around us as well.
Tu Bishvat is celebrated by Jewish communities around the world, not just by those living in the land. This holiday continues to commemorate the anticipation of Israel’s fruit harvests, a reminder to the world that God is restoring the fortunes of his people and his land, which had lain dormant for two centuries until it was resurrected in 1948 as the Jewish homeland.
Our son’s transformation from uncircumcised to circumcised portrayed an amazing connection with this special day of planting throughout the land. The Hebrew word used in the Bible for brand-new trees whose fruit has not yet been harvested is orlah, or “uncircumcised.”
On Tu Bishvat hundreds and thousands of little “uncircumcised” trees are given root in the land of Israel as a promise of God’s provision for the future inhabitants of Israel. In much the same way, our little uncircumcised boy underwent a physical transformation as a promise of God’s covenant with him and of his future fruitfulness.
This same Hebrew root word, orlah, is used throughout the Old Testament in reference to the “uncircumcision” of the hearts, minds, and ears of man. The inference is toward being hardened, blocked, or impeded from hearing God (see Jeremiah 6:10 and 9:25 and Habakkuk 2:16). Many scriptures allude to the need of all men to undergo a circumcision of the heart as a component of spiritual birth and renewal.
Man Is a Tree
Circumcision is not the only event in the Scriptures that links people with trees. In fact, people are compared to trees throughout God’s Word. Psalm 92:12-13 states that the righteous (humans) are like palm and cedar trees with roots in the House of the Lord, continuously bearing forth fruit. Other Old Testament examples can be found in Psalm 1:3, Song of Songs 7:8, Isaiah 65:22, Jeremiah 17:8, and Jude 12.
These biblical comparisons between men and trees have far-reaching significance. Just as trees must grow branches, twigs, flowers, and fruit to fulfill their purpose, so man is put on earth to be productive and to “bear fruit.” This holds an obvious parallel in terminology with many New Testament scriptures.
Jesus taught on this idea when he told us that a man could be known, or judged, by his fruits. He used allegorical language linking the deeds of mankind to the fruit of a tree when he said that every tree will bear fruit according to its kind:
Each tree is known by its own fruit. For figs are not gathered from thorn bushes, nor are grapes picked from a bramble bush. (Luke 6:44)
Again, building on this concept of each tree bearing fruit according to its kind, Jesus speaks strong words of correction to some of the wicked leaders of his time whose lives were showing forth wickedness even though they had an outer appearance of righteousness:
Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad, for the tree is known by its fruit. You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. (Matthew 12:33-34)
From these teachings we see that even our Master drew a connection between trees and the deeds of humans. We ultimately learn that good deeds indicate a spiritually healthy and good person, whereas bad deeds can only be produced by a deprived or damaged tree in need of spiritual healing and help.
The Fruit of Our Body
The Scriptures also liken children to trees. Psalm 128:3 tells us that a blessed man has “children like olive plants around [his] table” (NASB). Our children are not only born of our seed, but they will also reproduce our seed. Just as a tree’s fruit can be planted to bring forth another tree of the same kind, the righteous of the Lord will yield fruit that will reproduce holy generations.
Our children are a replication of our spiritual seed. When we live our lives according to God’s Word, we will bear the fruit of the “tree of life” (the Word of God), and in so doing we will be strengthened to train our children and to impart our lifestyle to them. Our children will then carry on good spiritual fruits to their children, and the cycle will continue with future generations. The writings of the sages bring this to light:
Oh tree! Oh tree! How can I bless you? Should I bless you that your fruit be sweet? It is already so. Should I say your shade be pleasant? It is already so. That a cool spring flow under you? It is already so. Therefore I bless you that all future saplings that grow from you shall also be as pleasant as you.
The hearts of most parents can identify with the old man from the Jewish tale of the carob tree. Many things that we do are not for ourselves but rather for the promise of fulfillment in the future. This hope is the fuel that drives us when we feel like giving up on our children or when we become discouraged in training them. But the Scriptures promise us:
He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers. (Psalm 1:3)
Planting Israelites in the Land
As Moses led his spiritual children, the Israelites, for forty years through the desert, he probably wondered if they would ever mature. But he kept his hope in the LORD, who had promised to make the Israelites a great nation, to bring them into their inheritance, and to plant them on the mountains of the land—and God did indeed fulfill His word.
We see the continuing fulfillment of God’s promise of the land of Israel to the Jewish people even today. Though Israel was taken into captivity, dispersed, and driven to the four corners of the earth, God has not forgotten what he promised to the forefathers: that he would bring them back to the land. Anyone who wants to see physical proof of the existence of God can look to Israel today and see what he is still doing in covenant faithfulness with his people:
I will plant them in their land, and no longer shall they be pulled up from the land I have given them. (Amos 9:15, NKJV)
We Remember Zion
The Jewish people are currently experiencing the longest exile from the land of Israel that history has ever seen. For Jewish people who live outside Israel, life is lacking, and for those of us who are still expectant of the final redemption of Yeshua, life is certainly filled with longing. Yet we must focus on the promise of Yeshua’s future coming.
I recall the saplings that my children and I planted in the soil of Israel with our own hands during the years that we lived in the land when our family was young. These memories, along with my faith in my children’s continued personal and spiritual growth, refresh me and keep me connected to the land that I love. It reminds me that the LORD is faithful to his promises and that he is continuing to plant human life on the hills of Israel today. Each life is a precious and living witness of the literal fulfillment of the truth of God’s Word.
Tu Bishvat marks the time in the annual agricultural cycle in Israel when the sap of the tree has risen to its highest place and is ready to nourish the buds of the tree, resulting in fruit. So too, may the cry from our souls rise up within us to see the fruition of our return to Zion, culminating in the return of our Messiah, Yeshua.
Wherever we are scattered, we have the opportunity to participate in Tu Bishvat and to remind ourselves of the heritage we have as God’s people. Even if we are far from the land, we can join in the prophetic fulfillment of what we see beginning to take place in Israel today. We can eat of the fruits grown in the land, and we can send money to Israel to purchase a sapling that will be planted in the land. An organization called Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael in Jerusalem provides this service to anyone living outside the land.
I believe it is vital that all believers in Jesus connect with the land of Israel in a very tangible way, because Israel is our ultimate destiny. It is the one place on earth where we can be assured of finding the Master, of meeting him face to face. Ultimately we will arrive in the land, so why not take it upon ourselves to plant a tree in Israel this year, and every year, until the Messiah returns?
But even if we do not plant a tree or provide for trees to be planted, we can fervently pray for the coming of our Messiah, which will bring about our own prophetic planting on the mountains of Israel.
An organization called Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael in Jerusalem provides this service to anyone living outside the Land. Their website is: www.kkl.org.il. (The site is in Hebrew, so if you don’t read Hebrew, you must click the ‘english’ box on the far left side of the top bar of the home page.)